The Mets ranked eighth in the majors with a 3.68 starters’ ERA last season, finishing ahead of talented staffs from Tampa Bay, Oakland and the World Series champion Boston Red Sox. However, the New York bullpen was not as efficient and placed 22nd in the game with a 3.98 ERA while also concluding as one of 14 relief units to throw more than 500 innings.
In an effort to improve their bullpen for 2014, the Mets could turn to several young arms, including prospects Jack Leathersich, Jeff Walters and possibly even starter Rafael Montero, a team official told Adam Rubin of ESPN New York last week. None of the three pitchers have appeared in the big leagues, and only Leathersich and Montero have Triple-A experience.
Leathersich explains how all three view the chance at a big league spot. ”That’s always the mindset. That’s the mindset for everybody here. I’m just going to go out there and give it my all and see what happens.”
Despite the lack of major league experience, the trio is expected to receive an opportunity to secure a spot on the opening day roster in spring training, according to Rubin. Plus, Mets manager Terry Collins said Cory Mazzoni — another minor league starter — could also earn an extended look for a bullpen spot.
The Mets are in need of power arms capable of replenishing a bullpen that finished last in the majors in strikeouts a year ago. With just 392 punch-outs over 507 innings, the relief corps was well below the National League average of 447 strikeouts. (That number should increase with full seasons from Bobby Parnell and Vic Black.)
But Leathersich and Walters could also assist the turnaround after each averaged more than a strikeout per inning last season, including a glowing 15.7 K/9 rate by Leathersich, who may own an advantage as the only southpaw of the group. Walters established career bests in saves (38) and ERA (2.09) during his third full professional season.
Montero seems like a long shot, however, as the 23-year-old blossomed as a starter between Double-A and Triple-A last season. His name has also surfaced as a possible candidate for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, a list that includes fading MLB veterans and oft-injured right-hander Jenrry Mejia. But the Mets could choose to use Montero in the same fashion the Cardinals have utilized Carlos Martinez — a dominant starter in the minors and now an integral late-inning arm — while he gains major league experience in preparation for a future starting role.